Advancing Quality (AQ)

The aim of Advancing Quality (AQ) is to reduce unwarranted clinical variation in the care delivered to patients, helping care organisations to reduce avoidable hospitalisation, ill health, and premature death.

We use a reliable clinical data set to demonstrate what good practice looks like and gain consensus on care standards, providing a meaningful evidence base from which organisations can target areas for improvement.

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Forums allow peers to come together supportively in the pursuit of best practice, sharing learnings and benchmarking performance. We embed learning solutions in to participating organisations and encourage the sharing of best practice to create a culture of continuous improvement.

Additionally, we can help to evaluate the impact of quality improvements enabling care organisations to evidence that they are delivering high quality care.

The AQ Methodology

The AQ programme collects data and supports improvement work in 6 Clinical Focus Areas, highlighting good practice and identifying unwarranted variation to enhance patient care, outcomes and experience. Each focus area has a set of metrics, developed by our Clinical Expert Groups and supported by our specialist Clinical Leads, defining what good care looks like.

AQ data is validated to ensure diagnostic accuracy and is a unique resource for condition-specific insights targeted on improvement.

We hold collaborative events (both in-person and virtual) and produce regular reports, analysis and case studies.

Our Senior Improvement Advisors provide bespoke support in initiating, implementing and sustaining quality improvement work.

Programme Offer

Gain Consensus on Care Standards

Gain Consensus on Care Standards

  • Support & coaching to engage with relevant stakeholders
  • Access to AQ’s Clinical Expert Group
  • Access to clinical expertise across the AQ regional network
  • Access to the AQ web-based data collection tool Patient Intelligence & Quality System (PIQS)
  • Support setting up Clinical Focus Areas (CFA) & internal AQ steering groups
  • Peer support from other AQ participants
Identify Unwarranted Variation

Identify Unwarranted Variation

  • Data quality & analytics support
  • Access to PIQS to input clinical pathway data
  • National benchmarking and sharing of good practice
  • Cross-organisational, data driven identification of areas for improvement
  • Independent data audit that can be used as part of governance process
  • Consistent methodological approach
Improve Quality of Care

Improve Quality of Care

  • Quality improvement insights from the AQ regional network
  • Coaching support for teams & individuals to develop capability
  • Access to collaborative QI training
  • Support to mobilise and collaborate with internal teams
  • Support to develop evidence to demonstrate quality
  • Standardisation of clinical practice
Learn and Share Best Practice

Learn and Share Best Practice

  • Support to capture & spread high quality, reliable clinical interventions
  • Access to large scale regional webinars for each CFA
  • Support to identify & develop case studies
  • Support to share data in an accessible way
  • Opportunities to share best practice at AQ Collaborative Actions Series workshops

Clinical Focus Areas

We support Trusts to improve the reliability of their clinical practices and reduce variation across six clinical focus areas. Our current Clinical Focus Areas are acute kidney injury (AKI), community acquired pneumonia (CAP), decompensated liver disease (DLD), elective hip and knee replacement, hospital acquired pneumonia (HAP) and sepsis. Since the foundation of the programme in 2008, we have covered 16 conditions in total, including acute myocardial infarction (AMI), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and stroke. We have decided to retire focus areas when audit and improvement work has been picked up by national programmes, to avoid duplication. Details of our current 6 focus areas are below.

Acute Kidney Injury

Acute Kidney Injury

Acute Kidney Injury

Acute Kidney Injury

Acute Kidney Injury (AKI) affects 1 in 5 emergency admissions and there are around 100,000 associated deaths every year the UK. Many of these cases are preventable.

The AQ measures focus on the crucial 24 hours after diagnosis, including ultrasound, serum creatinine, urine dipstick and specialist review, but also cover patient self-management after discharge.

AQ concentrates on stage 3 AKI, using pathology data to identify patients.

More about our work on AKI

Decompensated Liver Disease

Decompensated Liver Disease

Decompensated Liver Disease

Decompensated Liver Disease

Decompensated cirrhosis (irreversible liver damage) is the third biggest cause of death in those of working age and average life expectancy is 1 – 3 years. DLD patients tend to be resource-intensive, with multiple admissions.

Despite this, DLD is condition that receives relatively little attention. The AQ measures include IV Pabrinex, prompt referral to specialist care and Child-Pugh assessment.

More about our work on DLD

Community Acquired Pneumonia

Community Acquired Pneumonia

Community Acquired Pneumonia

Community Acquired Pneumonia

More than 250,000 people are hospitalised with pneumonia every year in England. 15% die in hospital or within 30 days of discharge. 1 in 5 patients discharged alive are readmitted within a month.

Our CAP measures include X-ray, CURB-65 scoring and antibiotics. CAP is one of our longest standing focus areas and AQ data has supported a number of research projects.

More about our work on CAP

Hospital Acquired Pneumonia

Hospital Acquired Pneumonia

Hospital Acquired Pneumonia

Hospital Acquired Pneumonia

Pneumonia can develop in hospital as well as in the community and can happen at any time, including when the patient is ready for discharge.

1 in 4 HAP patients die in hospital and HAP has a significant impact on length of stay. The AQ measures include X-ray, antibiotics and sputum sampling and focus on prompt diagnosis and treatment.

More about our work on HAP

Elective Hip and Knee Replacement

Elective Hip and Knee Replacement

Elective Hip and Knee Replacement

Elective Hip and Knee Replacement

Over 150,000 hip and knee replacements were performed in England and Wales every year before the pandemic and demand is now at an all-time high, with a large backlog and long waiting lists.

The AQ measure set, which covers the patient journey from pre-admission to post-discharge, focuses on the details of care to help deliver better outcomes in a challenging clinical environment.

More about our work on Elective Hip and Knee Replacements





There are around 48,000 cases of sepsis every year in the UK and 1 in 4 people admitted to hospital with sepsis die.

The AQ measures focus on early recognition using the National Early Warning Score, assessment using blood cultures and serum lactate and prompt administration of IV fluids and antibiotics. They also cover senior review and whether the patient was on a sepsis care pathway.

More about our work on Sepsis

AQ: Hip & Knee Replacement Insight Report – Climbing the Mountain

The Royal College of Surgeons1 describes a “mountain-sized” backlog of cancelled elective procedures caused by Covid-19 which will require “a five year plan to address” Quoted in Brennan (2020). The CovidSurg Collaborative (2020) estimates half a million cancellations between April and June 2020 in the UK. SUS (2020). Ibid. NHS Digital (2020). AQ (2020).

AQ Insight Reports: Case Study

More patients are admitted to hospital as a result of pneumonia in the north of England compared to the south. In the North West in 2019, the rate per 10,000 population was 58.5. To help reduce unwarranted clinical variation and health inequality, capture best practice and share evidence-based insights to AQ members across the North West, the AQ team created ‘Insight Reports’.

AQ: A Collaborative Approach to Reducing Patient Deterioration

The Advancing Quality Alliance (Aqua) developed a collaborative approach to support organisations to improve their early recognition of the deteriorating patient. The programme combined theory, practical application and group discussions to support learning. The programme was delivered across three days over nine months; coaching teams in the application and delivery of Quality Improvement (QI) approaches to improve the early detection of deteriorating patients. Teams identified a particular aspect of deterioration they wished to explore worked and learned together. Each participating team developed a core skill set to understand and influence behaviours and approaches applicable in daily practices to support improvements.

AQ: A Collaborative Approach to the Management of Acute Kidney Injury (AKI)

Southport and Ormskirk Hospitals NHS Trust has established a steering group to improve care for patients with AKI. The group is using the care bundle data from the Advancing Quality Alliance (AQuA) Advancing Quality (AQ) AKI programme to monitor care delivery for patients with AKI and to provide a framework for improvement.

AQ: Acute Kidney Injury (AKI) – Aintree University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

Acute Kidney Injury is a sudden and recent reduction in a person’s kidney function. It is estimated that approximately 100,000 deaths are associated with AKI each year with up to 30% of these being preventable with the correct care and treatment. NCEPOD (2009). Aintree University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust has directed its attention to improving the care delivery of patients who develop AKI for approximately five years. The STOP-AKI project was triggered following a mortality analysis at the trust and joint collaboration with the Institute of Healthcare Improvement, Boston, USA.

AQ: Adapting to Unprecedented Times in 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic meant that it was not business as usual for the Advancing Quality (AQ) programme in 2020. The programme responded to the challenges of Covid by diversifying and finding new ways to connect with and support trusts across the North West of England. Highlights include two new Clinical Focus Areas, a shift to virtual delivery, a new series of collaborative events, expanded reporting and national media coverage for our pneumonia programme.

AQ: Advancing Quality by Virtual Delivery

A fundamental part of the Advancing Quality (AQ) programme is to provide tailored improvement coaching for participating organisations and to bring them together to share learning. As 2020 brought unprecedented challenges from the Covid pandemic, the AQ programme adapted to find new ways to work collaboratively with care providers, embracing the opportunities provided by virtual technology in line with the principles outlined in our four improvement pillars.

AQ: Aintree Improvement Journey for Patients with Alcohol Related Liver Disease

Aintree University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust joined the Advancing Quality (AQ) programme at its launch in 2008 and is currently participating in eight clinical focus areas (CFA), this includes Alcohol Related Liver Disease (ARLD).

AQ: Effective Management of Frailty in Hip & Knee Replacement (Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust)

NHS England defines frailty as ‘where someone is less able to cope with and recover from accidents, physical illness or other stressful events’1. As the population ages, so frailty rates increase, presenting challenges to care systems. Elective hip and knee replacement patients undergo pre-surgical checks to ensure they are able to cope with their procedure.

AQ: Embedding Early Assessment In Out of Hours Primary Care

Sepsis and deterioration is a huge clinical problem and 70% of sepsis cases originate in Primary Care. In the last five years we have experienced a culture shift in primary care; from seeing sepsis as an acute condition that is difficult to detect, to recognising the need to actively assess patients where infection could be causing significant illness or deterioration.

AQ: Improving Care for Patients with Sepsis in an Acute Trust

Sepsis is a life-threatening condition which has in recent years become a high priority for healthcare providers. Early recognition and prompt management of sepsis can improve outcomes for patients, reducing the risk of mortality and morbidity. This could potentially save 14,000 lives and result in 400,000 fewer days in hospital for patients every year, according to estimates by the Sepsis Trust.

AQ: Improving Care for Patients with Sepsis in an Acute Trust

Southport and Ormskirk Hospital NHS Trust provides acute hospital services to 258,000 people across Southport, Formby and West Lancashire. Acute care is provided at Southport and Formby District General Hospital and Ormskirk and District General Hospital. Sepsis accounts for around 1,200 acute admissions to the trust each year.

AQ: Improving Early Detection and Treatment of Sepsis

Advancing Quality (AQ) is a North West programme designed to identify and reduce unwarranted variation in the delivery of care across healthcare organisations. Driven by the needs of the participating organisations, the programme offers members a structured approach to embedding evidence based care, enabling the highest quality care to be provided to every patient, every time. The AQ Sepsis programme relies on organisational commitment, executive support, clinical leadership and engagement from front line staff to deliver a collective approach to improving patient outcomes.

AQ: Improving the Diagnosis and Treatment of Sepsis at St Helens and Knowsley

Evidence suggests that implementing an effective and sustainable program to address severe sepsis requires a dedicated team. St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals (StHK) established a team of sepsis nurse specialists to deliver a 24 hour service to identify diagnose and treat patients with sepsis. The team focus on clinical care provision in ED, learning from case reviews and educating staff across the trust. The introduction of a specialist team has supported the work of the trust to increase the proportions of patients being screened for sepsis, the timely treatment of patients and reduced hospital mortality and the readmission rate for people with sepsis.

AQ: Improving the Management of Acute Kidney Injury (AKI)- Role of the AKI Pharmacist

The 2009 NCEPOD report, Adding Insult to Injury, reviewed outcomes for patients with acute kidney injury (AKI) in hospital. The report found that medication was the most common AKI risk factor not assessed and only 15% of patients had their medication altered to renal doses. The national AKI programme Think Kidneys advises that medicines optimisation is essential to reduce the risk of AKI and mitigate its severity if it occurs.

AQ: Improving the Treatment of Sepsis and Reducing Variation

Recognising there was considerable variation in performance for the AQ sepsis measure set across Pennine hospital sites, the trust wanted to improve consistency in diagnosis and treatment of patients presenting with suspected sepsis. The National recommendation to transition to using the NEWS2 assessment criteria gave the organisation the opportunity to review current practice to ensure early recognition and escalation of the deteriorating patient was paramount in admission areas.

AQ: Improving the Ultrasound Scanning Process for Patients with Acute Kidney Injury

Acute kidney injury (AKI) may sometimes be caused by an obstruction in the urinary tract, which can require treatment with a nephrostomy. It is important that people with AKI who are suspected of having a urinary obstruction receive an ultrasound scan early in their management, as outlined in national guidance (NICE, 2019).

AQ: Increasing Awareness of Sepsis to Improve Patient Outcomes

Mid Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (MCHFT) wanted to improve recognition of sepsis across the organisation, ensuring that early recognition and treatment promoted optimal outcomes and experience for patients. MCHFT is an acute hospital trust with three sites across Cheshire: Leighton Hospital, Victoria Infirmary, and Elmhurst Intermediate Care Centre.

AQ: Reducing Avoidable Harm through Patient Assessment & Escalation

In patients who are, or become acutely unwell in hospital, there is evidence that deterioration is not always recognised or it is not acted on rapidly enough (NICE, 2007). The Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust wanted to improve observation recording, recognition and response to deteriorating patients using the NEWS assessment tool.

AQ: Reducing Mortality in Community Acquired Pneumonia (Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust)

The NICE (2014) guidance publication ‘Pneumonia in Adult: Diagnosis & Management’ covers diagnosing and managing Community Acquired Pneumonia (CAP) in adults. Its aim is to improve the accurate assessment and diagnosis of pneumonia to help guide antibiotic prescription and ensure that people receive the right care. It estimates a mortality rate between 5% and 14% for patients admitted to hospital with CAP.

AQ: Reducing the Risk of Patient Deterioration in the Community

More than seven out of ten people with sepsis develop the condition outside of hospital (Esteban, 2007); any strategy to identify sepsis cases early should consider the delivery of timely care in the community. Pennine Acute Trust Community Services have developed a mechanism for early identification of sepsis in the community setting.

AQ: Response to Suspicion of Sepsis & Deterioration in Care Homes

In 2015, an All Parliamentary Group was established which called for the need to address sepsis across the NHS and NHS England identified tackling sepsis as a clinical priority for improving patient outcomes. The National Confidential Enquiry into Patient Outcome and Death (NCEPOD) highlighted lessons learnt from sepsis cases and provided key recommendations for improving the quality and safety of care. Of these 21 recommendations, 6 were identified as being relevant to the care homes within Lancashire County Council.

AQ: Serum Lactate in the Treatment of Sepsis

he Royal Liverpool & Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust (RLBUHT) identified an opportunity to improve the early diagnosis of patients with sepsis. Evidence suggests that the sickest sepsis patients have high levels of serum lactate. Timely measurement of serum lactate levels in patient pathways can improve early diagnosis which will lead to improved outcomes.

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AQ: Elective Hip and Knee Replacement – Behind the Numbers

Demand for elective care has risen over the recent years and this has been exacerbated by the pandemic. This report includes insights from analysis of Advancing Quality (AQ) programme data […]

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